Tennessee Alumnus

Cafe Dismay

Cafe Dismay

When did coffee become a fashion statement? If you brew plain old Folger’s in a bottom-of-the-line Procter Silex, you might as well admit your favorite dessert is Jell-O. Just plain coffee is soooo yesterday.

I drank my first coffee at UT, and only because of peer pressure. It was horrible. With a heaping spoonful of sugar, I could choke it down. But it was a legit reason to leave the library, where my sorority big sister took me to study every night. Going to get a cup of coffee at Evans’ or the T Room meant “I’m outta here.” (If you’re too young to remember Evans’ and the T Room–as most of you doubtless are–suffice it to say they were places probably none of us would go in today–linoleum floors, bright lights, and Formica table tops. They served greasy burgers, crinkle cut frozen fries, and indifferent pies that actually weren’t too bad when paired with a steaming mug of their plain old coffee. Not a double hazelnut latte with low-fat whipped cream in sight.

And the fascinating thing is that plain old coffee–so unsophisticated now–seemed like the height of cool back then. I was living away from home for the first time, totally in charge of my own life (except for that check from Daddy each week), and I had escaped the library to sip the ultimate dark and mysterious adult beverage–coffee. I thought I was pretty darn slick.

Did late-night coffee drinking keep me awake? I didn’t even know that was a possibility. I slept the sleep of youth–deep, untroubled, subtly caffeinated. Now if I drink coffee after noon, I can’t sleep at night. Go figure.

Tennessee Alumnus printed an article a few years ago that suggested moderate coffee consumption could lower the risk of colon cancer, gallstones, cirrhosis, and Parkinson’s disease and decrease asthma attacks, as well. It’s even been suggested coffee has more cancer-fighting antioxidants than green tea. So this habit I picked up as a library exit strategy is going to bring me a longer, healthier life. Win-win.

But back to the social stigma of plain old coffee. Our palettes these days are apparently supposed to be more finely tuned. We should be able to distinguish and discriminate. Ethiopian? Sumatran? Organic? Shade-grown? Skinny? A tall? A grande? Ordering coffee is more complicated than filling out adoption papers.

When did the ubercoffee culture take hold? Starbucks opened its first store in Seattle in 1971, so it’s a safe bet the trend has been, pardon me, brewing since then. At UT there’s Starbucks in the library, in the cafeterias, and on the Strip.

But I’m rooted in the past. To me, coffee is dark, hot, and bitter. It’s great with doughnuts. It’s better on these frosty winter mornings than during sultry summertime. It’s not a status symbol. I admit it: Folger’s from a Procter Silex is fine with me. But I don’t care for Jell-O.